Deadline Day: Don’t get your hopes up

It’s that time of year again.  Jim White is frothing at the mouth in a cage deep in the bowels of Sky Sports, soon to be released.  Agents are rubbing their hands, clubs are panicking, and Arsenal are doing, well, nothing.  Transfer deadline day is here.

I’m exaggerating for comic effect.  We’re not doing ‘nothing’.  There will be a couple of relatively high-profile departures today – although Theo Walcott won’t be one of them.  Arsene Wenger has decided to run the risk of keeping him at the club as he enters the final year of his contract.  The latest quotes from Arsene don’t sound entirely convincing:

“Theo is focused to do well, and whatever happens at the end of the season happens at the end of the season. He loves the club. Maybe we can find an agreement at some stage.”

Keeping him without an agreement doesn’t make much business sense.  Either we’re very confident he’ll choose to sign, or we simply don’t feel we can afford to lose another established star.

One man who is going is Nicklas Bendtner.  The Not-so-great Dane is undertaking a medical in Turin this morning ahead of a loan move to Juventus.  I think we’re probably all agreed he’s landed on his feet there.  It’ll be a deal with an option to buy, but he’l have to have a better season than he did at Sunderland to stay in Serie A permanently.
Reports in the Korean media say Park Chu-Young has flown to Spain to complete a transfer to Celta Vigo.  However, I have it on good authority that Celta are pursuing other options, so this deal may not be quite as advanced as those stories suggest.
There’s a bit of chat that he could be joined in La Liga by Marouane Chamakh, who is linked with a move to Malaga.  I suppose we owe them a favour after stealing Santi Cazorla for £12.6m, although I’d still be slightly surprised to see us let all three of Chamakh, Park and Bendtner go.  If we do, then surely we have to bring in another centre-forward – and at the moment I can’t see us bringing in anyone at all.
There are a few stories doing the rounds in the papers this morning, linking us with Cheick Tiote, Daniel Sturridge, and Michael Essien.  Tiote I can write off straight away – Alan Pardew spent much of last night’s post-match press conference praising his chairman Mike Ashley for resisting enquiries from other clubs for his top talent.  Sturridge too seems unlikely – he is one of only two centre-forwards in the Chelsea squad, and question marks over his attitude make him an unlikely Arsene signing.  The Essien story has a ring of truth to it – Chelsea have little use for him in an over-stocked midfield, and he’s a player Arsene has long admired.  There are question marks over his form and his fitness, but no more so than when we took Yossi Benayoun on loan from the same club a year ago.
However, if you asked me to be bold, I’d stick with yesterday’s prediction:
Predicted Outs: Bendtner, Park
Predicted Ins: None
I’d love to be wrong.
Finally, yesterday saw the most celebrated draw of the football calendar: the Capital One Cup. We’ve got Coventry at home.  In other news, we’ve got Schalke, Olympiakos (again) and Olivier Giroud’s former club Montpellier in a comfortable-looking Champions League group.

And so it’s on with the transfer frenzy.  Through the pain, the anguish, the glimmers of hope and the long periods of boredom, I’ll be tweeting events over at @Gunnerblog.  Come Follow Me.

Thoughts On Possible Transfer Activity Between Now And 11pm Friday

Not long now, is there? Not long for Arsenal to replace Alex Song, sell Theo Walcott, and do all those other things the newspapers have insisted they’re going to do. And yet it is very, very quiet. The day before the big day, I thought I might have a little look at what I expect to happen in the coming hours.

OUTS

All the talk yesterday was of Theo Walcott being on the verge of quitting Arsenal. Since then, there’s been a fair bit of backtracking from both sides, and Arsenal are now actively briefing that regardless of his contract situation, Walcott will stay. This reportedly follows on from talks between Theo and Arsene yesterday, during which the winger expressed a desire to find an agreement on a new deal.

Perhaps Arsenal were looking to flush out Theo’s true intentions by leaking the story of a possible sale to the press. Whatever the case, it now seems unlikely he’ll go. A bid from Liverpool would certainly test our resolve, but it seems we’ve decided to gamble that we’ll be able to find an agreement with the player before January. I suspect Walcott’s advisers are smart enough to know he’s on to a good thing with Arsenal, and a compromise will be reached in the coming weeks.

However, there will be others on the move. The list of possible departures reads: Sebastien Squillaci, Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, Ju Young-Park, and finally, at a push, Marouane Chamakh.

The one I consider most likely to move on is Bendtner. Both he and Arsenal admit that the relationship between the Dane and the club is broken beyond repair, and I suspect a solution will be found on the final day. Last year we waited all summer for someone to pay a fee, and when that failed to materialise agreed a hastily arranged loan deal with Sunderland. This summer we’ve hung on in the hope of receiving a few quid, but at this stage it wouldn’t surprise me if Bendtner makes another temporary move. All considered, I’d be hugely surprised to ever see him play for Arsenal again.

I’ve barely seen Ju Young-Park play for Arsenal at all, and having had his squad number pinched by Lukas Podolski, the chances of seeing him do so again seem slim-to-none. His biggest problem is going to be finding a club willing to take a chance on a player who has barely played in the last twelve months. It’s such an odd situation: his international record continues to suggest he’s a player with significant ability, yet he is plainly not part of Arsene’s plans. There was rumoured interest from Celta Vigo in Spain, but that’s now gone quiet. Should that fall through, I suspect he’ll get himself a move to the Middle East, or perhaps back to Ligue 1. For his sake, and for the good of his career, I hope he gets out.

If Bendtner and Park both move on, I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll allow Marouane Chamakh to go too, despite interest from Besiktas. If, as at Stoke, we field both Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, then Chamakh is (rather worryingly) our first reserve centre-forward. I consider it impossible to let him go without signing a new striker – but more on that later.

Sebastien Squillaci, too, seems likely to stay. Arsenal had hoped to move him on earlier in the summer, but Bastia were unable to get close to the salary he currently earns in London. Since then Arsenal have sold Kyle Bartley, who had been promoted to the first-team squad, and seem set to retain the Frenchman as fifth-choice centre-half. Whilst he certainly has his failings, he was only called upon to make six appearances last season, so retaining him in the squad wouldn’t be a disaster. You never know: his experience could even prove useful away from the pitch.

The case of Andrey Arshavin is a tricky one to unpick. His Arsenal career seemed to be over when he joined Zenit on loan in February, only for Arsene to mention the possibility of a reprieve after an impressive Euro 2012. After being involved in the opening game with Sunderland, he then didn’t make the bench for Stoke, amid reports of a ‘business trip’ to St. Petersburg. Personally, I think he’ll still be at Arsenal come Saturday morning – but we can’t read too much in to that. The Russian transfer window runs for another week, so Arshavin’s future will still be up in the air until after the international break.

INS

I’m afraid this section is going to be rather shorter.

It’s not that Arsenal don’t need players. Hypothetically, we could strengthen all over the field. There are back-up goalkeepers who would fill me with more confidence than either Lukasz Fabianski or Vito Mannone. An experienced right-back would allow Bacary Sagna to recover at leisure and relieve the pressure on young Carl Jenkinson. Alex Song is yet to be replaced as the club’s primary holding midfielder, whilst the patchy form of Gervinho and Walcott means we could do with another option out wide. Finally, the worryingly high position of the goal-shy Marouane Chamakh in our attacking pecking order suggests a striker should be on any shortlist.

However, at this late stage, and judging from the whispers I’m (not) hearing, I don’t expect any major activity. Arsene will hold a press conference this morning, in which he will say something like:

“At the moment we are not close to anything. We are working until the last minute. If we find a special player at a good price, we will do it.”

It’s a different situation to last summer, when we desperately needed bodies. Arsene is searching within a very specific set of parameters, and I find it hard to see us turning up what he wants at this late stage.

It’s not that were not bothering.  We are making enquiries across Europe. Earlier this week, when Theo Walcott’s situation looked a little more precarious, Dick Law spoke to a club in Portugal about the logistics of signing a wide player. That interest, perhaps due to progress on the Theo front, has now been formally ended.

If we sign anyone at this late stage, I suspect it’ll be a forward. Arsene seems very confident in his midfield options, and despite the rumoured interest in Yann M’vila I can tell you with conviction we have made absolutely no contact with Rennes all summer. It’s interesting too that so many papers said we’d look to replace Alex Song with Victor Wanyama – a story that has died completely since Song’s departure. It’s almost as if it wasn’t true in the first place.

To put things in perspective, at this stage last summer we knew of an agreed fee for Andrey Santos, Park Chu-Young had completed a medical, and I’d let you know (albeit in code) about Per Mertesacker’s imminent arrival. We’d also been linked by a credible BBC journalist with Yossi Benayoun. This time round? Nothing. Granted, we still had the surprise signing of Mikel Arteta to follow, and Arsenal do like to do things on the quiet, but I think it’s too quiet for there to be any flurry of activity.

I could be wrong – we’ll get a clearer idea when Arsene meets the media this afternoon. I don’t think failing to add to the squad would be a disaster – we’ve bought well in Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski. But I do think there’s clear room for improvement, and I’d be delighted if we could add a defensive midfielder and a striker. I just don’t hold out much hope.

Predicted Outs: Bendtner, Park
Predicted Ins: None

Cazorla makes more sense than Sahin

Hello folks.  Apologies for radio silence.  Serves me right for trying to use a radio to write a blog.

In the time since we last spoke, Arsenal rounded off the Asia tour with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, and a 2-2 draw with Kitchee SC.  The latter through the Kitchee sink at us, and exposed almost as many defensive frailties as our Premier League rivals.  There’s much work to do, and it’s worrying that only one official pre-season fixture remains in which to tighten up at the back and introduce the new strike pair of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.

There were, however, some positives on the tour.  We’re used to the defensive problems, but there were some less familiar sights, such as Gervinho being efficient and productive, and Abou Diaby not limping.  Now we return to London and the hard work continues – away from the pitch, too.

In recent days we’ve been heavily linked with two Spain-based midfielders: Malaga’s Santi Cazorla, and Real Madrid’s Nuri Sahin.  It’s well known that Arsene is a huge admirer of both players: he attempted to sign Cazorla from Villarreal last summer, and six or so years ago named Sahin as the world’s best teenage talent.

The need for Cazorla is clear.  Despite selling both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer, Arsene’s didn’t buy a direct replacement in the form of an attacking midfielder, choosing instead to rely on Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky across the course of the season, with mixed results.  Cazorla would fill that gap and add an extra dimension to the side – and, at a reported £16m, be an absolute bargain.

At first glance, the signing of Sahin would be a little odd.  He plays a deeper role than Cazorla, without being a destroyer.  It’s an area in which Arsenal are seemingly well-stocked.  If there is anything in this story – that of Arsenal pursuing a left-footed, box-to-box creative midfield player, then one has to wonder just how worried Arsene Wenger is about the amount of playing time he’ll get out of Jack Wilshere this season.

If a deal for Sahin was imminent, I doubt the player would have flown to America with the rest of the Real Madrid squad.  There seems to be a significantly bigger fire at the heart of all this Cazorla smoke, and Malaga’s financial troubles could hold the key to us nicking their prize asset on the cheap.  I had a brief chat with a journalist from Malaga Hoy last night, and he told me that people around the club accept that the player has decided his future is with Arsenal; it’s now just down to the two clubs to reach an agreement.  Whether or not that’s possible will depend on how desperate Malaga are to bail themselves out – I can’t see Arsenal bidding much more than the current £16m on the table.

Arsene has already confirmed that messrs Park, Bendtner and Squillaci will soon be on their way, and there are a couple more who could face the chop.  And that’s without mentioning the precarious contract situations of Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, and even Alex Song.  It’s going to be a busy few weeks…

Bolton Report: Arshavin takes centre-stage

Park celebrates bending home the winner against Bolton

Arsenal 2 – 1 Bolton

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal went through to the Quarter-Finals of the Carling Cup for the ninth successive season with a 2-1 victory over Bolton.  It wasn’t televised anywhere in the world, so the 56,628 or so lucky enough to be in the statdium are, thus far, the sole witnesses to another encouraging victory.  If you haven’t seen the game at all, you might have an interest in this audio report I put together in the match’s immediate aftermath.

The team was the expected mix of youth and experience.  The headline inclusion was Thomas Vermaelen, though it passed almost without notice that his partner on the night, Sebastien Squillaci, was making his first appearance of the season.  Lukasz Fabianski kept goal, with youngsters Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris (a debutant) at full-back.  Coquelin and Frimpong patrolled the midfield, with Benayoun, Arshavin and Chamberlain pulling the strings behind Ju-Young Park.

Arshavin had not originally been intended to play, with Tomas Rosicky pencilled for inclusion.  However, a slight injury to the Czech midfielder saw the far from slight Arshavin handed his central playmaking role.  It would prove to be the game’s crucial factor.

The first half was a relatively quiet affair.  Yossi Benayoun flashed one effort over, and on a couple of occasions Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed to try and do too much when released on the right.  It wasn’t a poor performance from the young winger, but it was his certainly his least eye-catching in an Arsenal shirt.  Perhaps he is feeling the pressure of expectation.

The second half started ominously, with former Gunner Fabrice Muamba side-footing in to the roof of the net to give Bolton the lead.  It was at this point, however, that Arsenal’s experienced players began to seize control of the game.  Arshavin was the key figure.  First he picked up the ball on the right, skipped infield, and fired a fizzing shot in off the far post.

Within three minutes, he’d created the winner, scooting inside from the left before playing in Park in the space that had been created.  The Korean’s finish was exquisite, opening his body and bending a first-time shot around the goalkeeper and in to the far corner.  Thierry Henry would have been proud.

Afterwards, the manager spoke in glowing terms about Park’s performance:

“He had a very, very good game. His movement was exceptional and his finishing is absolutely fantastic.

He is ready to play in league games.”

Park battled well against two experienced Premier League centre-backs in Gary Cahill and Zat Knight, and considering Marouane Chamakh’s terrible form in front of goal, is bound to get his chance sooner or later.

Arshavin, however, was the undoubted man of the match.  There were still errors in his game, but in the final third it’s hard to question his efficacy.  However, listening to Arsene post-match, we’re unlikely to see him in his favoured position again anytime soon:

“You cannot play with two wingers and two offensive players like that, you are too short in midfield. He is normally a wide player but he wants to grow in a role behind the striker.”

Whether or not that growth takes place at Arsenal or elsewhere remains to be seen.

Thomas Vermaelen departed with a solid 85 minutes behind him and whispers of a calf strain, but the man himself has taken to Twitter to dispel those fears and confirm his availability for Saturday’s game with Chelsea.  With so little match practise behind him, I don’t expect him to start, but simply having him around the squad is a positive boost at the moment.

Tonight I fly to Spain for a week of exile from, among other things, the internet.  If I happen to stumble in to a WIFI-furnished cafe I will update while I am there – if not, you’ll have to cope without me for a week.  Chins up.

5 things we learnt from the Sunderland game

robinsunwide

Robin van Persie celebrates the winning goal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal are more reliant on Robin van Persie than ever…
There are two reasons we have relied quite as much on one Robin van Persie.  The first is that it hasn’t been possible, simply because he hasn’t been fit.  The second is that it hasn’t been necessary, because we’ve had a more even distribution of talent.  At the moment, especially with Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna injured, he is the sole world class performer in our team.  He’d grace any team in the world, and finds himself as the talisman of a struggling side.  Fortunately, he is seizing responsibility with relish, as his match-winning display yesterday demonstrated.  This Robin is, unlike his comic-book name-same, no ‘boy wonder': he’s all grown-up.  And we desperately, desperately need him.

Robin is swiftly becoming too good for this side…
The sad truth is that as Robin’s shooting star is looking lonely in a darkening Arsenal constellation.   He has less than two years to run on his current deal, and Arsene didn’t exactly sound confident of him signing an extension any time soon:

“The ideal situation is that he extends his contract but if he doesn’t you have to respect that. You know what is important is that he plays like he plays because we are all here to see special football players and he is a special football player.”

In other words: enjoy it while you can.  As I said above, Van Persie would not look out of place at Real Madrid or Barcelona.  If he keeps playing like this, he’ll have his pick.  Perhaps his future will depend on our Champions League status.

Carl Jenkinson has one oustanding quality…
There may be question marks over his defensive positioning, but you can’t argue with the fact that he is quite possibly the finest crosser of the ball at Arsenal Football Club.  For anyone who has spent years watching our corners hit the first man that won’t be a huge surprise, but yesterday Jenkinson’s delivery of the ball was consistently excellent.  It was a solid performance from the young lad, and hopefully he’ll grow in confidence and stature as the games go by.

Andrey Arshavin can be a great impact sub…
Yesterday he was introduced for the patchy Gervinho, and made a real impact, drifting infield and showing a willingness to run at defenders and try to make things happen.  I know I have a reputation as something of an ‘Arshavin apologist’, but when you witness cameos like he produced yesterday it’s easy to see why I can be seduced by his talent before being appalled by his attitude.

Arsene does not trust Park…
Had Van Persie not spared our blushes with that sumptuous free-kick, surely questions would have been asked of his Arsene’s continued unwillingness to make use of his new striker.  Against both Spurs and Sunderland, Arsene chose to introduce Yossi Benayoun ahead of our number nine.  Perhaps it comes from an unwillingness to change our shape, but with only two years in which to make his mark at Arsenal, Park will surely be conscious of the early lack of opportunities.